He's 87 today, and I know there are times he's surprised he made it to 20.
We had our rows when I was young (and stupid), but I grew up with the knowledge that he, like most of the men in the neighbourhood -- and like most of my adult relatives -- had done a tremendous thing: They fought the good fight from 1939 to 1945. And it gave me something to try to live up to.
He joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in 1940, when he was 17. Overseas by 18, he was in England, North Africa, Italy -- where he turned 21 -- and Northwest Europe, and has the medals and ribbons to prove it. A couple of years ago, I finally got him to relate his experiences into a tape recorder for his great-grandchildren. He started off by saying "There are some things I'm not going to discuss...." And I know why, from my own experience. But what's there is a story to hear.
He came home on crutches, the result of sideswiping a deuce-and-half truck on a motorcycle nine days after the German surrender. He refused to let that injury slow him down. In fact, he refused to even limp, despite the horrific surgery done to reconstruct his knee in 1945. Every year for decades, he'd go off with his hunting and fishing buddies, trekking those great north woods where he'd been born. And he'd come back smiling. Hell of an example.
He can't do that any more, not after three knee replacements and open heart surgery and a series of mini-strokes. Nor can he go golfing as he did before and after his retirement from the company he and my mother founded in 1955, and which my brother now runs with such great success.
I won't be with him today, or at least, I won't be with him physically. Mentally and emotionally, I will be there, though, because looking back, I can see how he influenced my life, mostly in a good way.
I inherited his love of language and books and poetry, for one thing. Unwittingly, perhaps, he taught me about rhythm and cadence on his good knee. He'd read aloud The Highwayman or How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix or The Charge of the Light Brigade, bouncing his leg -- and me -- in time to the words. I still try to write that way, as if it was meant to be spoken.
I also inherited his gift for musketry, and his love of things electronic. So much so that I joined the Signal Corps cadets and then the militia the moment I was able.
And even if I didn't get the entrepreneurial gene, the example he set in business of honesty, fairness, hard work and commitment is one I've never forgotten.
What I did have was a 40-year career that was filled with words and photographs and people and excitement. He even let me ride motorcycles when I was 16 -- despite what happened to him -- as long as I wore a helmet. It was, in some ways, as big a gift as anything else.
So happy birthday, Old Man. I'll be talking to you this evening....